Bosch Connected World Hackathon

There is no shortage of things to do in Berlin, and if you’re curious about high-tech, there are lots of opportunities to dive in and get connected to the high-tech culture. In my almost two years here I’ve had a great time spending my spare time attending events at startup-accelerators and co-working spaces, meetups, conferences and even hackathons.

When I saw the notice for a hackathon sponsored by Bosch I wasn’t sure what to think. To me, Bosch means spark plugs and power tools. Turns out there is a lot more to Bosch than that, and they are developing a big presence in the IoT space. So I decided I had to have a look at the Bosch Connected World conference in Berlin.  It was all about connected devices, and I would have loved to listen to the talks in the conference.

But there were also 4 separate hackathon tracks and I was curious about those. I signed up for the Connected Car hackathon. I’ve been learning Android mobile app development on my spare time lately so it was an opportunity for me to see how my skills stacked up.

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The way these things work is that the general topic of the hackathon is introduced, then anyone can pitch ideas to the audience. After the pitches are made, people circulate around the room and form teams to work on each idea. Then the teams design and code up their idea, working until the final presentation on the afternoon of the next day.

I decided to pitch a simple idea and was a bit surprised and very relieved that 4 university students from Stuttgart joined in and we formed a team. Since it was a Connected Car hackathon, we decided to integrate an Android app with the Bosch MySpin environment so that it would run on the car’s entertainment system.idea-1.png

The Bosch guys even brought a Jaguar with the MySpin system installed. We somehow missed to install our app in the car, but ran it on a prototype unit instead.

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After two days of hacking we were able to retrieve GPS coordinates from one phone, and display google maps driving directions on another MySpin-connected mobile phone. Very cool! I was somewhat relieved that I was able to contribute my part and feel that I’m keeping pace with the industry.

The event was really well organized at Cafe Moskau (pictured in the tweet above) which turned out to be a great venue. Cafe Moskau was built in 1964 and is situated in the former East Berlin. The architecture of the building is fantastic, such a departure from the stern soviet-era concrete buildings lining the streets around it. Great lunch and dinner foods and refreshments served by an attentive staff – this was definitely not your average hackathon. There must have been more than 200 people hacking away in several different rooms. There were different hackathons for Connected Car, Industrie 4.0 (a big topic in Germany, I think it’s termed Industrial IoT elsewhere), power tools and cloud-connected sensors. Check out the twitter hashtag #BCX16 to see more on the event, or have a look at this video.

At the end of the two days we enjoyed a nice wrap-up dinner courtesy of Bosch where hackers and conference attendees mingled. I must say they did a good job putting this whole event on. And a big thanks to the hackathon organizers – they clearly put a lot of effort into it, and it all went off without a glitch.

 

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A Tale of Two Systems

Ok, a cheesy headline. But it fits.

I recently relocated to Berlin and part of the fun is to get set up with new… everything. A few trips to Ikea, hardware stores, grocery stores, the local Bürgeramt (government bureaucracy is alive and well) etc… and then the real fun: communications. We need new mobile phones and internet access.

I like the convenience and simplicity of the one-stop-shop model so we visited the local telecom provider in our area. No problem, they can help with all of that. It didn’t take long to find ourselves citizens of two worlds.

First of all, I don’t need or want a land-line. It’s 2014 and we just use mobile phones and Skype. Neither did we really need or want TV since we watch online on-demand on our own schedule. But… you can’t get Internet without TV or TV without a land phone line anywhere in the world these days. So now we occupy space in the public phone system for a number that will never ring, and we have lots of German TV channels we will never watch. But it’s nice to know they’re there, I suppose.

But that’s a digression. Step one is to get mobile phones, and that was easy. Pick a plan, pick a phone and less than 30 minutes later (most of which was spent filling in the application forms) we had mobile phones in hand, activated and ready to go. Great!

Not so easy for Cable TV and Internet. The store clerk patiently explained that we will receive a set-top media receiver via mail courier in two weeks. Then, two days after that, the actual service would be activated and away we go. The DSL modem for internet connection is yet another piece of equipment which, incidentally, the TV set-top box depends on. We picked up the DSL modem in-store.

One company, two very different levels of service. Mentally I form a picture of a company that has one logo but two distinct business units and logistical setups, probably as a result of a merger along the way.

The mobile unit is new, formed around internet-time service expectations and delivery capability. Same thing for internet connectivity. It’s new, not saddled with legacy procedures and expectations.

The cable TV unit is stuck with old infrastructure, not just for physical connection but also in terms of logistics. I imagine someone has to take the order, re-type it into another system, print it on a dot-matrix line printer, send it to Nuremberg or wherever where someone puts their stamp on it, makes two copies which get inserted into thick dusty binders never again to be seen, sends another paper work order via internal mail to the service activation center where the operator finally flicks the electronic switch.

Well maybe not exactly like that, but perhaps not too far off. It’s 2014 and there is a 2-week waiting period to get a simple service turned up, where it appears that most of the time is spent simply waiting in line.

One company, two service models. I guess the merger wasn’t as thorough as the company logo might suggest.

Predictably, as anyone familiar with complex systems will know, the longer lead-time model with more links in the logistics chain is more prone to problems and surprises.

Somewhere along the way our set-top box got lost in the shuffle, and nobody was able to find it or tell us when it would arrive. “Maybe tomorrow” we heard a few times, the clerk’s voice unable to really convey the confidence we were hoping for. Can’t order a new one because the previous one is already “in the system and on its way”. The fun part here is that as we were tracing the steps, we discover that the service provider actually sent the set-top box to the courier service the same day we ordered the service. So they were in effect told to hold the package in the delivery warehouse for 2 weeks before even shipping. It was lost for almost a week before it arrived. We finally had internet working 3 weeks after the order was placed.

I check the calendar. Yes, it’s 2014. But at least we’re in Berlin and living life in a way that’s not possible anywhere else in the world. Some things are inconvenient, yes, but easily purged from active memory by blogging about it. Kind of feels like we passed the first test. Now we move on and become Berliners – whatever that is.